The Rundown: One-Dimensional Cubs Keep Winning, Assad Shoves, Steele Returns Tonight, Trade Season Starts Early

“Baby, there’s an enormous crowd of people and they’re all after my blood.” – Three Dog Night, The Show Must Go On

I can’t tell if the Cubs are good, bad, lucky, well-managed, or a little bit of each. Even though they’re tied with the Brewers for first place after taking two of three from Milwaukee over the weekend, the wins seem too one-dimensional. Chicago’s starting pitching has been great, but the bullpen is far too shaky while the team’s offense often struggles. The Cubs were 3-for-22 (.136) with runners in scoring position during the series.

The bullpen hasn’t been much better. Adbert Alzolay hit rock bottom on Friday, surrendering three runs on four hits in one-third of an inning to ruin a great start by Hayden Wesneski. He and Miguel Amaya allowed five stolen bases in that fateful outing. The Cubs did win 6-5 on Saturday, though Keegan Thompson and Héctor Neris nearly choked away a 5-0 lead.

Jed Hoyer needs to pull the trigger on improving the bullpen. The Marlins started their fire sale on Saturday by trading Luis Arráez and the White Sox, Cardinals, Pirates, Rockies, Angels, and Astros could soon join them. The Cubs’ president of baseball operations can’t be too patient because the expanded postseason ensures demand outweighs supply, giving an edge to the sellers. The Padres understood that and snagged the best bat available.

Hoyer should be looking into the availability of Tanner Scott, Bryan Hoeing, Burch Smith, Jalen Beeks, Michael Kopech, Mason Miller, and Austin Adams. If David Kaplan is to be believed, the Cubs and Marlins “could be working on a deal for a reliever.”

The Rays could be sellers, too. They’re 6.5 games out of first in the powerful AL East and have six relievers with at least one save. The Cardinals have one of the league’s best bullpens but are more likely to trade Paul Goldschmidt or Nolan Arenado.

Javier Assad could be a difference-maker for Chicago’s bullpen. He deserves to stay in the rotation but the Cubs would be better if he could handle the middle innings with Wesneski. Since August 1 of last season, around the time Assad became a regular in the Cubs’ rotation, his 2.40 ERA is third-best in baseball among pitchers with at least 80 innings.

Justin Steele is scheduled to start this evening at Wrigley Field against Yu Darvish. The lefty has been out since Opening Day, but his return shouldn’t push Assad to the bullpen. Things get a little more complicated once Kyle Hendricks returns, and Cade Horton should get an opportunity at some point. Manager Craig Counsell will have to decide if moving Assad to the bullpen is the right decision, but there’s no denying that he, Wesneski, and Ben Brown are a better trio than Alzolay, Colten Brewer, and Richard Lovelady.

The Cubs still need a bona fide closer, however. Brown might be the next man up, and you’ll see why in the quotes section below, but other than that, the Cubs don’t have a legit closer on the roster or in their system. Alzolay is not the answer, so Hoyer is going to have to find one elsewhere if it isn’t Brown. Kopech could be a possibility, though Hoyer needs to act fast if he’s seeking outside help. Cubs fans know better than anybody just how critical one lost game is.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

This is very concerning news.

Central Intelligence

  • Milwaukee (20-13): Robert Gasser is the Brewers’ top pitching prospect and his next start could be his major league debut.
  • Cincinnati (16-18): The Reds are struggling at the plate, but still feel good about their playoff chances despite being swept and outscored 16-2 by the Orioles this weekend.
  • Pittsburgh (16-19): Paul Skenes might be coming to the big leagues soon, too, but a rough start (for him) on Sunday may delay his debut start just a little. Keep an eye on May 10. Skenes is scheduled to start that day, and the Pirates will host the Cubs that evening.
  • St. Louis (15-19): The Cardinals lost 6-5 to the White Sox on Saturday thanks partly to a borderline strike three call after a one-hour rain delay. Chicago escaped with the win in 10 innings despite the Cardinals having the bases loaded with no outs. After two strikeouts, the delay began.

Climbing the Ladder

“I did a two-step quick-step and a Bossa nova…A little Victor Sylvester and a Rudy Valentino. You should have seen me moving right across the floor. Hand me down my tuxedo, next week I’m coming back for more.” – Leo Sayer, I Can Dance

Cubs starters pitched 18.1 innings in the series win against the Brewers and didn’t allow a run. The group’s 3.13 ERA is fourth among MLB rotations.

Chicago’s offense is as weak as its pitching is strong, however. The Cubs have six regulars playing beneath league average according to OPS+. That list includes Amaya, Swanson, Ian Happ, and Pete Crow-Armstrong. Mervis has an OPS+ of -14, while Mastrobuoni sits at -76.

Swanson entered Sunday’s contest in an elongated slump since the first week of the season. He had a 38 wRC+ in his previous 91 plate appearances with just three extra-base hits and a strikeout rate north of 30 percent.

  • Games Played: 35
  • Record: 21-14 (.600), 1st place in NL Central (tie)
  • In One-Run Games: 6-6 (.500)
  • Total Plate Appearances: 1,317
  • Total Strikeouts: 301
  • Strikeout Rate: 22.85%
  • Team Batting Average: .237
  • With Runners in Scoring Position: 71-for-283 (.251)
  • Runs Scored: 168
  • Runs Allowed: 150
  • Pythagorean Record: 19-16
  • Chances of Making the Playoffs: 87.7%, 4.5% chance to win World Series 

How About That!

The Padres acquired Arráez and cash considerations from the Marlins in exchange for RHP Woo-Suk Go, OF Dillon Head, OF Jakob Marsee, and 1B/OF Nathan Martorella.

That deal could kickstart a market that is usually slow until the league gets closer to its trade deadline.

The Mets were swept by the Rays at Tropicana Field and haven’t won a game there since 2015. New York was one strike away from stopping that streak on Sunday, but it wasn’t meant to be.

The Twins’ 12-game winning streak came to an end on Sunday.

Willie Mays turned 93 this weekend and his best friend and former teammate Charles “Coop” Willis offers a veritable history of the start of Mays’ career.

Sunday’s Three Stars

  1. Shohei Ohtani – The Los Angeles star was 4-for-4 with two home runs and three RBI, helping the Dodgers complete their weekend sweep over the Braves.
  2. Anthony Santander – He plated five runners in an 11-1 Orioles win over the Reds. Four of those RBI came on a grand slam.
  3. Luis García Jr. – The Nationals second baseman enjoyed a four-hit day that included three singles, a home run, four RBI, and a stolen base.

Extra Innings

Swanson is Chicago’s streakiest hitter, so perhaps this homer will be the start of his next offensive tear.

Monday Morning Six-Pack

  1. Bears GM Ryan Poles desperately wanted to add defense in last week’s draft but was surprised to see that the offensive players he coveted were still available. Poles was able to add an underrated edge rusher thanks to a late-round trade.
  2. Mystik Dan won the Kentucky Derby in a dramatic photo finish. It was the race’s closest three-horse finish since 1947.
  3. WNBA viewership numbers appear to be on the rise thanks to Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese. Streaming options and venue changes are already becoming the norm and the league is just starting its preseason schedule.
  4. NFL star Tom Brady was roasted Sunday night and took his share of barbs from comedians, former teammates, and longtime coach Bill Belichick. Kevin Hart was the funniest, as expected. “Gisele gave you an ultimatum, ” Hart said. “She said you retire or we’re done. When you got a chance to go 8-9 and all it will cost you is your wife and your kids, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
  5. The Fall Guy starring Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt made a disappointing $28.5 million in its debut at the North American box office, marking the worst start to Hollywood’s summer season since 1995.
  6. Author Stephen King is a big fan of the Netflix hit stalker series Baby Reindeer, and though I was hesitant to watch it, I must agree. The seven-part show is akin to a train wreck that is impossible to turn away from no matter how coarse the carnage becomes. I watched all seven episodes on Sunday evening.

Infield Fly Rule

I will be out tomorrow because I am having a procedure prescribed every five years for men of a certain age. I hope to feel well enough to return on Wednesday.

Things are a little more complicated once the calendar turns to June. I have to have the leads that are attached to my heart from a former pacemaker implant removed. There is a laser option that rarely works in cases like mine, but the survival rate drops to 50/50 if the surgeon has to open my chest cavity. I’ve had the leads since 1986 and I’ve been taking antibiotics to avoid infection, which inherently causes other issues, including immunity to antibiotics and problems with my liver fibrosis.

They Said It

  • “If we can get to the point where we’re very healthy, we’re going to have some tougher decisions to make. Right now, we’re still trying to put together the innings puzzle on a day-to-day basis. Trying to say [Brown’s] this or that, I don’t think that makes sense. I don’t think that’s logical for us to do right now. What we know is that Ben’s getting hitters out. There’s a spot for Ben, and we need [him] to pitch big-league innings. He has earned that because he’s getting hitters out. That’s going to continue.” – Counsell
  • “We need Adbert to be an effective member of the bullpen. We need to keep giving him opportunities to do that. The situation we’re in with just who we have available today, you can’t just stay away from people.” – Counsell
  • “When you’re connected, good things happen. This year there’s been a lot of disconnected moments in my swing. We’ve been working hard, day and night almost, to figure it out. Today was a good step in the right direction.” – Swanson

Monday Walk-Up Song

All the songs in today’s post were written by Sayer.

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